In Mental Health Awareness Week[i], Alexander Buchmann, Managing Director, of Hanseaticsoft is urging shipping companies to make better use of technology on board to support mental wellbeing both during the COVID-19 crisis and in the future.
A special COVID-19 issue of the Seafarer Happiness Index Report[ii] released this month shows that the key areas the pandemic is affecting are workload, interaction on board and shore leave, with some seafarers reporting they are feeling physically exhausted, mentally disturbed, anxious and homesick.
The research highlights that seafarers are experiencing greater levels of fatigue and burn out as they are forced to keep on working without a sense of when they might be heading home on leave. The issue of leave is exacerbated by the fact that many ports are now locked down.
The report also highlights how fundamental internet connectivity is to the happiness of seafarers in terms of being able to connect with home. In the words of one respondent, but echoing many, “Nothing is better than being able to contact home”.
Alexander Buchmann said, “This timely report shows that the COVID-19 crisis is having a major impact on seafarers’ wellbeing. Supporting mental health has always been important because of the nature of the work and crews being at sea for long spells, but even more crucial now with seafarers potentially spending even longer away from home.
“Not being able to go home when they expect and often having to spend long periods with no shore leave is likely to lead to rising levels of anxiety and depression. This is not going to disappear overnight and could impact crews for the foreseeable future.
“The effect of COVID-19 on global operations will continue until a vaccine is found as measures will need to stay in place to contain the virus as far as possible. Having adequate support systems in place to help crew members struggling with their mental health is therefore a priority.”
A report last year by Cardiff University, Seafarers’ Mental Health and Wellbeing[iii], found that workers were at risk of anxiety and depression, but many employers were failing to address the issue. The report suggested that internet access would make the most significant contribution to improving the mental health and wellbeing of seafarers.
Alexander Buchmann said, “Ensuring crews have personal access to the internet is one of the best ways to help crews manage their own mental health. Being able to stay in touch with family and friends whenever they want can really lift someone’s spirits and help them stay positive. It can also enable crew to access mental health support should they need it, as well as keep up to date with the evolving COVID-19 situation helping them feel a bit more in control.
“During Mental Health Awareness Week, we’re encouraging companies to think about how they could better support seafarers’ mental health and engagement using technology by improving connectivity on board to support better ways of working.
“Having internet access at sea enables companies to use cloud technology solutions, which can assist in every aspect of crew management and administration, including health and wellbeing, improving efficiency and workloads. It also benefits seafarers and helps them stay connected to the outside world,” adds Mr Buchmann.
One way Hanseaticsoft is helping companies improve the health and wellbeing of seafarers, is ensuring they get enough sleep with their Rest Hours Module, part of their Cloud Crewing software solution.
Ensuring seafarers have enough rest and stick to the legal limits on how many hours they can work can be a challenge, especially in an industry which has traditionally jotted rest hours on pieces of paper and kept this information in one place.
The Rest Hours Module digitalises and centralises the management of rest hours via cloud technology, allowing crews to enter their own rest hours rather than relying on someone else to collect and enter the data. This means they can access their own data and ensure the correct times have been entered.